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Breaking Down John Engler's Ouster At Michigan State University

Dianna Byrum
Abigail Censky
WKAR File Photo
MSU Board Chairwoman Dianne Byrum

John Engler is offically out at Michigan State University following a tumultuous term as the school's interim president. What does his ouster mean for the future of MSU? WKAR's Karel Vega sat down with Abigail Censky and Scott Pohl to discuss.


VEGA: This is WKAR. I’m Karel Vega. John Engler is out as Michigan’s States interim president following heavy backlash to comments he made last week to the Detroit News regarding survivors of Larry Nassar’s abuse. This was just one of several instances during Engler’s time as interim president where his actions were met with public outcry, but this seemed to be the last straw. On Wednesday, the Michigan State University Board of Trustees announced that an emergency meeting would be take place the following morning, heavily hinted at it being in regard to Engler’s place as interim president. By Wednesday evening, Engler announced he would resign the following week, but that wasn’t soon enough for the board of trustees. This morning (Thursday), he was ousted by the board effective immediately with MSU’s Executive Vice president for Administration Satish Udpa chosen as his replacement. A lot of developments happening really fast, and to learn more, we are joined by WKAR’s Abigail Censky and Scott Pohl. Thank you both for joining me.

POHL: Sure thing.

CENSKY: Absolutely.

VEGA: Abigail, you were at the board of trustees’ meeting this morning (Thursday). How fast did this decision come down to get rid of John Engler? 

CENSKY: So, the decision wasn’t originally to get rid of John Engler. It was just that the board of trustees had called an emergency meeting and in less than a 24-hour period, that went from calling an emergency meeting to John Engler submitting his letter of resignation to the board yesterday (Wednesday) evening in an eleven-page letter and then this morning (Thursday), the board accepted that resignation and appointed a new interim president.

VEGA: And the person set to replace Engler as interim president is Satish Udpa, who has over a decade of administrative experience. At Michigan State University, Scott who is Satish Udpa?

POHL: Well, as you mentioned Karel, he is vice president of administrative services at MSU. He is an engineer by trade. He was dean of the college of engineering for a time before that. I’ve been around him from time to time over the years and it seems to me that it is unlikely that he’ll say or do anything publically or privately that would offend or anger survivors of Larry Nassar’s abuse or their supporters.

VEGA: Before his immediate ouster, Engler announced his resignation in an eleven-page letter to Trustee Chairwoman Dianne Byrum. That is a long letter. What are some things that he mentioned in his resignation?

CENSKY: So, Engler mentioned all of the things that he had done during his term as interim president, which included establishing mental health services and making those more robust here on campus. He brought up the fact that he served as, what he viewed as, a stabilizing force on campus, and really ran through his list of accomplishments. Never did he mention the insensitive remarks that got him in trouble with a lot of survivors and survivor advocates and the board in the first place.

POHL: The other thing that he addressed really early in that letter, Karel, was, from his point of view, this all came to pass this week because of the arrival of several new democrats on the board of trustees. He made it sound political, as opposed to having anything to do with remarks.

VEGA: We’re speaking with WKAR’s Scott Pohl and Abigail Censky about the MSU board of trustees’ decision today to make John Engler resignation effective immediately. What reaction are we seeing from the public?

CENSKY: Broadly on Twitter, people seem to be very happy that there is a new president and the board has taken this action. At the meeting, there was applause after the new president was announced and Engler’s resignation was accepted by the board. That happened a couple of times during the meeting. And then people who were at the meeting, long time survivor advocacy groups, like Reclaim MSU, as well as some very prominent survivors and their families seem to be very happy. I actually spoke with Lisa Lorincz, the mother of a survivor Kaylee Lorincz about how she was feeling after the resignation was announced and she said she is very happy.

LORINCZ: Today (Thursday) was the first time I really felt like they understood that a survivor meant that a trusted adult violated them in the deepest way. And that made me emotional because, like, I’m good now. It’s full circle. They get it. And it was just awesome.

CENSKY: Speaking to the press, Satish Udpa, the new president, said that he hopes that he is capable of creating a culture of a change at the university and he outlined a little bit of what that looks like to him.

UDPA: A culture of change for me means that everyone respects everybody else. And we recognize that people have their rights, people have to be treated fairly, humanely, and that is what we are going to strive for.

VEGA: So, what comes next for the board and the school’s new interim president?

POHL: MSU’s been conducting a search for a permanent president for a while now. That search continues. It is being conducted in private. Officials contend that potentially strong candidates won’t apply if it’s conducted in public. The search is still on track to wrap up and a new president is likely to be announced this summer, probably in June.

CENSKY: Right, the new chairwomen of the board, Dianna Byrum said that the search likely wouldn’t be made public. Advocacy groups are hoping that there will be some level of interface with the candidates between university groups and survivors before the official finalist candidates are announced, but the board has yet to comment on whether that will happen or not. Also, the attorney general notified everyone that she has requested to interview President John Engler now that he has announced his resignation for the attorney general’s investigation into MSU’s internal handling of the Larry Nassar case. So, that request has been submitted to Engler’s attorneys, so we’ll see how he responds and his attorneys respond to that. As well as at the last board meeting, the board established a new healing fund and the details of that will likely be announced who it’s for, how much money it is, a February’s meeting of the board of trustees.

VEGA: WKAR’s Abigail Censky and Scott Pohl, we’ve been talking about the future of Michigan State University following today’s (Thursday’s) ouster of interim president, now former interim president, John Engler. Thank you both for joining me.

POHL: You’re welcome.

CENSKY: Absolutely.

VEGA: You’re listening to WKAR.

Scott Pohl is a general assignment news reporter and produces news features and interviews. He is also an alternate local host on NPR's "Morning Edition."
Karel Vega served as radio news managing editor at WKAR from 2020 to 2023.
Abigail Censky reported on Politics & Government at WKAR from 2018 to 2021. Now, she reports for The Colorado Springs Gazette and edits for The Catalyst Newspaper.
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